Despite being told that the Cleveland Indians do not have much financial flexibility after signing free agent first baseman Yonder Alonso,1 the front office almost made a big splash over the weekend in being finalists for the services of one Lorenzo Cain. Cain chose to sign a five year, $80 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, but it was reported by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that Cleveland was in the running until the end, a report confirmed by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian on Twitter.
Can confirm @jcrasnick report that Indians were interested in Cain. But, reality remains: Cleveland would've needed to create some payroll flexibility to get a deal done.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) January 26, 2018
Making an attempt to sign Cain could have two possible reasonings behind it: either the front office was taking an advantage of an undeniably chilly Hot Stove market and trying to sign a good player at a discount, such as they did with Edwin Encarnacion last winter, or the powers that be do not feel prepared enough with the current makeup of the outfield. That outfield would consist of a currently injured Michael Brantley in left, Bradley Zimmer in center, and Lonnie Chisenhall splitting time with a currently injured Brandon Guyer in right field. A Cain signing would have meant preparations for a Brantley injury or would push Chisenhall to the bench.2 While five years and $80 million does not seem like a large discount, the per year average is slightly less than what was expected for someone of Cain’s abilities.3 Given the lowered-but-not-by-much cost, I expect that Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff are a little unsettled with the current iteration of the outfield. With that in mind, let’s take a glance at what is available on the outfield market still.
A week ago I would have said there was no chance. Martinez was the cream of the crop at the onset of the offseason and it has been reported that he has a five year, $100 million offer on the table from the Boston Red Sox. With Cain getting 5/$80 million, it can be argued that Cleveland can, and maybe should be in on Martinez as well. A Brantley/Zimmer/Martinez outfield is lackluster on defense, but boy would they sure score runs. As with Cain, as Bastian said on Twitter, some salary would inevitably be dumped,4 but a lineup consisting of Martinez in one of the 3/4/5 slots would make opposing pitchers have nightmares. However, any pressure from outside forces would likely cause Boston to put the pedal down and get something done with JD Kong.
Likelihood: Highly unlikely, but would be fun as hell
Any offensive player leaving the lofty heights of Coors Field and the Colorado Rockies is expected to see some drop in value. Teams identify players that hit worse when their team is on the road, and Gonzalez had an almost historical split in his home/road stats in 2017. For the year, Gonzalez hit for a .262/.339/.423 slash line overall, but digging deeper, he only had a sOPS+ of 66 on the road and a sOPS+ of 141 at home.5 While his numbers might seem tantalizing, he was so awful away from Coors last year that he should not be considered.
Likelihood: Not worth the effort or money
With a rebound year in 2017, Gomez should have been signed by now. However, with this being the year that inexplicably every team decided to hold off, he remains a free agent. A league average defender and always a 20HR/20SB threat, Gomez is a perfect fourth outfielder for a team like Cleveland looking to find a diamond in the rough. Gomez also has the added advantage of being a right-handed batter, which would pair with the lefty-leaning lineup Cleveland has employed. While he might not overtake lefty Lonnie in everyday play, he should be able to bring enough to supplant Brandon Guyer as his platoon mate.
Likelihood: Should have happened already
Joey Bats had himself a bad 2017, likely costing himself millions of dollars in the process. A right-handed power bat with the profile and name recognition as Bautista should be worth $6-8 million on the open market, but after slashing .203/.308/.366 with a wRC+ of 80 in 2017, he will be lucky to find a home. The argument for Bautista on the Indians is a right-handed bat would balance the lineup, but over the last three years, Bautista has hit same side pitchers better than the opposite. Paired with a precipitous drop in hard-hit percentage and you can see why Bautista didn’t make the top 50 in FanGraph’s free agent projections. A minor league deal is the only shot I would give Bautista.
Likelihood: Highly unlikely
You can make the argument that we already signed Maybin to a minors deal, but his name is just Melvin Upton Jr.6 While they have similar skill sets, decent on the base paths but a low batting average, Maybin has done more lately to warrant a major league contract. Upton Jr did not play a game on a major league roster in 2017, and even then couldn’t post a wRC+ above 70, while Maybin played 114 games split between the Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros and finished the year with a wRC+ of 88. While neither of these outfielders should replace what is already in place, signing Maybin could help shore up any outfield defensive issues and would be a worthy replacement in Brantley is unable to go.
Likelihood: Would sign to a spring training invite, but not much else
Without cutting payroll and removing at least one former All-Star from the roster, all of these moves are unlikely. Martinez is the only player mentioned above that would greatly affect the on-field production but could come at the expense of Jason Kipnis. If the roster is in need of help in the outfield, moving Kipnis from second to left field or even moving Yandy Diaz to the outfield full time might be better decisions. Time will tell as we get closer to Spring Training and the heat of spring tries to thaw out the frozen over Hot Stove.
- Elevation Revelation connoisseur [↩]
- Something Jeff Nomina would be okay with [↩]
- FanGraph’s projections were for 4 years and $68 million for an AAV of $17 million [↩]
- Likely Jason Kipnis, possibly Yan Gomes as well [↩]
- sOPS+ is the split relative to the league average rather than going against the whole of the league average [↩]
- Formerly BJ, if you’re not up to date on the Upton name news [↩]